PARIS — The situation in Khartoum over the past couple of days has marked the beginning of a major crisis, whose stakes extend well beyond the borders of Sudan. For two basic reasons, we must all care. The most visible one is geopolitics: This pivotal African country stands at a crossroads where Russian, Chinese and American interests, as well as direct spheres of influence of Egypt, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia intersect, and potentially openly clash. Then, there is also our continent, Europe, and its tendency at procrastination, now facing the situation in the context of immigration.
I won't try to pinpoint the whys and wherefores, to assess the risks — I'll leave that to experts in diplomacy and geopolitics. But this crisis is also about more than Sudan's people for another less-obvious reason, and that is linked to political philosophy.
Terror is not a figure of speech.
What is remarkable in the ongoing series of events is the direct, clear-cut confrontation — perfect, somehow, in the purity of contrast — between two conceptions of politics. On the one hand, a determined, thoughtful crowd, minds set to peace, managed in the beginning of April 2019 to chase away a president, Omar al-Bashir, accused of having blood on his hands. He is currently facing an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity.
This surprising movement was then able to reach a deal with military rulers, in order to design a step-by-step transition leading to democracy. Yet in recent days, some generals seem to have changed their minds, trying to break to popular momentum with pure terror.
Sudan's Transitional Military Council's spokesman in Khartoum on May 7 — Photo: Mohamed Khidir/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire
Using the word "terror," here, is not a figure of speech. The regime's Rapid Support Forces are a murderous, destructive force in the region, including many who showed faceless cruelty in Darfur: destroying villages, poisoning wells, raping and killing senselessly. As of June 3, in Khartoum, these units have fired shots at an unarmed crowd, led punitive expeditions, knifed civilians, assaulted women. The dictatorship of barbarity, rule by fear.
Facing off this policy strategy that's as old as autocracy itself, we see a calm, creative grassroots movement that is confident but not gullible. It has reached a new level and now includes a wide variety of elements across society. Facing the extreme violence of recent days, its members' skills at political invention will be crucial. Right now, the movement is looking for a path to non-violent resistance, gaining inspiration from American philosopher David Thoreau and India's iconic democratic leader Mahatma Gandhi.
The game is not over yet.
Can closed shops and civil servant strikes hold back barbarity and put an end to terror? Are they enough? Are more direct forms of action needed? Unless there are no other means than violence to address violence, we could see the beginning of a civil war. Some think about it. Not many.
The game is not over yet. But it will be, soon. France's voice and Europe's move could be decisive — but don't hold your breath. Yet, beyond Khartoum, Sudan's fate and regional power games, the outcome of this arm-twisting is not a purely theoretical, abstract philosophical dilemma.
All over the world, under varied shapes — though not that different at the end of the day — the same clash seems to have been triggered again between brutal forces and the right of people to self-determination. Either the situation tilts towards order imposed through coercion, torture and anguish; or democratic liberty triumphs thanks to ingenuity, intelligence and courage.
Everywhere in the world, similar clashes have started to break out, between brute forces and the right of peoples to self-determination. Still, knowing what you want is different from predicting what tomorrow brings.
One thing is certain: What's at stake in Khartoum is, one way or another, the business of every citizen in the world. It can take on different forms depending where you are, but it is always a choice between tyranny and liberty, repression and equality, inhumanity and fraternity. All these words are neither pure ideas nor futile pipe-dreams, but rather political realities that we need to work towards, relentlessly.
See more from World Affairs here